"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Friday, June 08, 2007

Plenty of surprises up its sleeves

The Prestige

5 stars out of five

Dir: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson

Watch carefully, for things are not as they seem in The Prestige. Writer and director Christopher Nolan's hand is quicker than the audience's collective eye, and while he provides plenty of clues along the way, surprising plot twists abound on the way to a stunning finale.

The structure of the entire film is set up in the opening scene, in which Mr. Cutter, a designer and builder of stage illusions played by Michael Caine, explains to a young girl the three stages of any magic trick: the pledge, the turn and the prestige.

Showing her a caged canary, Cutter explains how the magician shows you something ordinary. The second step is to make the ordinary object do something extraordinary, he tells her, collapsing the small cage and making the bird disappear.

"Now if you're looking for the secret, you won't find it. That's why there's a third act called the prestige. This is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you've never seen before," Cutter tells the girl, producing the canary from thin air.

The girl turns out to be the daughter of Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), a famous magician facing the hangman for the murder of his archrival and former friend, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman).

Set in late Victorian era London, The Prestige follows Borden and Angier from their early days as friends learning the tricks of their trade. When an escape goes wrong, killing Angier's wife, he seeks revenge on Borden. As the years pass, the two become famous rivals and the competition becomes obsessive with each seeking to sabotage the other. When Borden comes up with an inexplicable, showstopping illusion, Angier goes to exceptional lengths to duplicate and finally, with the help of mysterious genius inventor Nikola Tesla (an understated but magnetic David Bowie), to outshine Borden. Who will take the final bow, however remains a mystery until the last moments of the film.

As he did in Memento, Nolan very deftly manipulates the audience much like a magician, misdirecting our attention to spring surprise after surprise.

While a lesser film might have relied completely on a clever script with a surprise ending (see the works of M. Night Shyamalan), The Prestige provides the total package: a subtle, multilayered script (cowritten with his brother, Jonathan Nolan), smart dialogue, terrific performances by all the principal cast, smooth pacing, beautiful atmospheric cinematography and a jaw-dropping, mind-blowing final act worthy of the film's name.

(From the Jun. 9 edition of The Daily Yomiuri)

In yer ear

By Kevin Wood Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer


Sky Blue Sky

Warner Music, 2,680 yen

After soaring high with the more experimental Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, Wilco return to Earth with Sky Blue Sky.

The album harkens back to their earlier alt-country roots. Despite major personnel changes, the Wilco of Sky Blue Sky sounds a lot more like the band that recorded the Woody Guthrie tribute Mermaid Avenue than the group responsible for the abstract excesses of Ghost.

At times, Sky Blue Sky sounds like the best '70s country-folk-rock album never made, with twangy hints of the Grateful Dead ("What Light"), the Flying Burrito Brothers, and God forgive them, even the Eagles. Mix that with a stiff dose of introspective, moody melodicism by songwriter and frontman Jeff Tweedy, punctuate with some guitar heroics by new member Nels Cline and the result is a largely understated song cycle about the uncertainties of love.

The gentle, tentative nature of the opening song "Either Way" with its pretty, breezy guitar solo sets the thematic tone: "Maybe the sun will shine today/The clouds will blow away/Maybe I won't feel so afraid."

Several songs, notably "I Hate It Here," and "Shake It Off" seem rooted in a fear of, or a reaction to losing love, while others such as "Walken" and "On and On and On" are more straightforward love songs, although they tend to dwell more on reassuring a lover than seduction or celebration. Others, like the title track and "Leave Me (Like You Found Me)" seem to be about surviving emotional chaos.

Musically, Tweedy's neurotic energy and famously jangled nerves come through in the arrangements. "You Are My Face" starts off quiet until a sudden burst of dissonant roaring guitar sends the song off in a much more intense, melodramatic direction. "Side With The Seeds" is a sonic standout, with the band showing off their chops. The acoustic-guitar folkiness and sunny harmonies of aforementioned "What Light" are balanced by the plaintive, lonesome plea "Please don't cry/We're designed to die" of "On and On and On."

While Sky Blue Sky may lack the alternative edginess of Yankee and Ghost, it also has a warmth the former lacks and the latter only hints at. Wilco has come full circle back to the classic rock elements Tweedy's early work with Uncle Tupelo was both a reaction to and a reflection of--and a welcome homecoming it is.


Roses and Clover

Universal/Brushfire 2,381 yen

The former Animal Liberation Orchestra returns with a follow-up to 2006's Fly Between Walls. The California-based quartet have tightened up their jam band-based sound, while still leaving lots of room in their songs for extended keyboard and guitar interplay.

The band's sound also seems to have coalesced into a more cohesive style. While their broad range of influences--funk, '70s rock, soul, jazz, blues and folk--is still evident, they no longer seem to change genres from song to song. Where ALO once went from Motown Funksters on one track to Nashville Country Rockers on the next, the group seems to be on a more even musical keel on Roses and Clover, opting to blend styles within songs rather than jumping from one genre to the next.

One thing that hasn't changed is the infectious, sunny, groove-oriented nature of their sound. Roses and Clover is a danceable romp with a rootsy feel and solid musicianship.

(From the June 9 edition of The Daily Yomiuri)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Supporting the Troops
Over the last several weeks we've seen Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day twist and squirm on the issue of prisoners of war captured by the Canadian military in Afghanistan. They seemed to have hit a new low last week when Harper, who has never served in the military (or even had a job in the private sector) tried to deflect criticsm of his gormless defence minister by suggesting that anyone who hadn't served in the military was not fit to criticize those who had. By the same reckoning I suppose those who have never taught school should be barred from criticism of the education system and those of us who have never held a seat in the House of Commons should just keep our traps shut and be grateful for the fine job the Gnu Gummint of Kanada is doing on our behalf.
This is, of course, to use the technical term complete and utter bullshit. Canada is not a military dictatorship, the armed forces answer to their civilian overseers, who are supposed to answer to the voters.
This week, they've sunk a notch lower in their emulation of the national security state to the south, where anything the government does, no matter how many of its own laws it breaks, can be justified by claiming it is being done in the interest of national security (Just like they do in such enlightened democracies as North Korea and Burma. The government is now stonewalling on releasing information about the number of prisoners taken in Afghanistan, saying the enemy could use such information for propaganda purposes or to hurt our gallant boys in harm's way defending our way of life over there so that we don't have to fight the terrorists over here and why aren't you wearing red with yellow ribbons you islamoanarchofacist pinko bastard?
Doris wants to know how we dare to even ask questions:

"Detainees are not simply people who have jay-walked," Day said. "These are people who are suspected terrorists."

"That has been the air of the questioning, so much so that our troops tell us they think they're being accused of doing wrong things."

Doris better go read the Geneva Conventions again, because if the military is handing over prisoners to be tortured, they are doing the "wrong thing" -- the kind of wrong thing that could land people in the Hague. By asking these questions and demanding the military act properly we are supporting them, we are making sure they don't inadvertently violate international law and commit a war crime by mimicing the conduct of our neighbors to the south.
It is not the job of the grunts in the field or their immediate superiors to determine whether the Afghan government tortures prisoners. They should be able to take the word of the minister of defense and the prime minister and the chief of defense staff who job it is to determine what happens to prisoners taken on the battlefield. It very definitely is their responsibility to determine whether the Afghans are likely to torture any prisoners we hand over to them.
The opposition are doing their job, the voters are doing thier the troops are doing theirs -- why isn't the government doing its job?

crossposted at the Galloping Beaver, where Dave explains for the fourtyleventh time why it is important for us to follow the Geneva conventions, even if the other side doesn't.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Giving crazy a bad name

"With God's help, the countdown button for the destruction of the Zionist regime has been pushed by the hands of the children of Lebanon and Palestine. By God's will, we will witness the destruction of this regime in the near future."

-- Iran president Ahmadinejad, on Israel

Because the—all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases.
There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those—changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be—or closer delivered to what has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the—like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate—the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those—if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.
---U.S. President Bush, trying to explaining his plan to save Social Security,
Tampa, Fla., Feb. 4, 2005

Shouldn't these guys be out on a street corner in tinfoil headgear, shouting at traffic?

We have suffered a bit of computer meltdown at home so posting will be light for the next few weeks, but stay tuned -- once we get things up and running again, I have a huge multipart post on race and immigration in Canada planned, and my new shipmate over at the good ship Galloping Beaver, Alison, wants me to finished the Execution sketch.